It would seem logical that because of higher transportation costs, imported fish and shrimp would be more costly than local. As with many imported goods, though, that's often not the case. Regarding imported seafood, the reasons why is it often cheaper than domestic are both disgusting and disturbing.
It’s a fair assumption that the following assertions are not universally applicable, especially to countries revered for high-quality seafood, such as Japan. However, the aquaculture practices in some countries are horrific.
In 2012, a Business Insider report compiled the findings of investigations by both Bloomberg and Mother Jones on the Asian fish and shrimp industry. The reporters discovered several shortcuts used to keep prices low. The discoveries included tilapia farms that fed goose and pig manure to the fish, extensive use of antibiotics (a practice prohibited in the United States) and unsanitary processing conditions.
Worse, in December 2015, the Associated Press published the latest in an investigative series that sheds light on the Thai slave trade. Shrimp-peeling sheds use slaves — some of whom are small children — coerced under threats of violence to peel shrimp for 16 hours a day. Similarly, in a rare act of corporate self-policing, a Nestlé SA investigation discovered very similar conditions on Thai fishing boats for Myanmar and Burmese immigrants.
Imports of massive quantities of cheap seafood from other countries have just about driven American shrimpers and fishermen out of business. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, less than 10 percent of fish and shrimp sold in the United States comes from our own waters.
The key to supporting these domestic businesses is to check where seafood comes from before it is purchased. The United States Department of Agriculture requires that shrimp packaged for retail sale be labeled with the country of origin. The same goes for seafood counters. The signs in the case must be marked with that information.
When dining out, it’s harder to tell sometimes if a dish uses domestic or imported seafood, as the origin is not always disclosed on the menu. Most restaurants that sell domestic shrimp and seafood will proclaim that loudly and proudly. If the origin isn’t listed, chances are it’s not from a high-quality source.
Here is a list of restaurants in Houston that support American shrimpers and fishermen with their dollars. For the sake of convenience, the list is broken down by neighborhood, then alphabetically. The list is by no means complete or exhaustive. Add your favorite restaurants serving domestic seafood in the comments section below.
Updated, 4/6/2016, 8:49 a.m.: Added more Houston restaurants below that have made us aware of their domestic seafood.
The Lucky Fig (food truck): Chef Luca Manfé says when he serves fish or seafood, he uses only local and wild-caught from the Gulf.
- Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith: The menu includes wild Texas shrimp, blue crab and Gulf fish.
- Holley’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 3201 Louisiana: On the menu are Gulf oysters, both raw and grilled, Gulf flounder, striped bass, grouper and redfish.
- Izakaya, 318 Gray: Despite the Japanese focus, chef Jean Philippe-Gaston says oysters here are exclusively from the Gulf and the shrimp is from legendary fishmonger Frixos Chrisinis at Blue Horizon.
- Prohibition Supperclub + Bar, 1008 Prairie: Chef Ben McPherson says that Prohibition also buys from Blue Horizon. The fish bought includes snapper, grouper, tilefish, amaco jacks, head-on shrimp and any available bycatch. Prohibition's oysters, served grilled and on the half-shell, come from Seafood Wholesalers and Living Water.
- Quattro: About sixty percent of the seafood served at Four Season Houston's restaurant is domestic, including snapper and striped bass. Chef Maurizio Ferrarese said, “We use Gulf Wild Snapper on our dinner menu and can even tell guests when and where their fish was caught."
- Reef, 2600 Travis: Chef Bryan Caswell of Reef has long been at the forefront of championing local and domestic seafood. Among other accomplishments, the restaurant helped facilitate the return of Gulf appellation oysters. A recent selection includes oysters from Jean Lafitte and Crocket reefs off the Texas coast and from Sister Lake in Louisiana. Caswell says he sources from legendary fishmonger Jimmy Evans, who has sold Gulf seafood for over 20 years, as well as other suppliers.
East of Downtown (EaDo)
The Original Ninfa's On Navigation: A representative emailed us to say, "The Original Ninfa's on Navigation very much prides itself on getting local seafood. They source fresh product from Houston-based Louisiana Seafood and Seafood Wholesalers."
Caracol: About 90 percent of the seafood served is domestic. That includes Gulf oysters, snapper, grouper and shrimp. Caracol's crab comes from the Gulf waters of Louisiana and Alabama.
- BLVD Seafood, 2804 Avenue R ½: Seafood here comes from local purveyor Katie’s Seafood Market. The vast majority of its inventory comes from local fishermen and shrimpers.
- Ocean Grille and Beach Bar, 1228 Seawall: Owner Bryan Davis says he's currently getting wild brown shrimp and oysters from Fisherman's Reef out of Beaumont. During the high season, he sources snapper, grouper and sometimes oysters from Katie's Seafood Market.
- Sonny’s, 1206 19th: All the seafood for this restaurant's dishes, including gumbo and the Shrimp Bun, comes from the Gulf.
Continue reading for more restaurants.